Buddhist Violence, American Rappers and Sexy B*tches

Via John Pappas
on Mar 24, 2010
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It seems that Sri Lanka has refused to issue American R&B singer Akon a visa. Akon is slated to perform there in April, but after Buddhist activists took offense and began protesting one of his videos.

Read the full story here.

Hundreds of protesters stormed (really?) the head offices of the Maharaja Broadcasting and Television Network, the concert’s media sponsor, injuring four employees, smashing windows and damaging parked cars. The protesters said the video for Akon’s song Sexy Bitch, which features scantily clad women dancing in front of a statue of the Buddha, had offended members of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese ethnic majority, which is mainly Buddhist.

Anusha Palpita, director-general of the government’s Information Department, said:

“Taking into consideration the allegations levelled against the singer Akon, the government has decided not to issue him a visa to conduct the concert in Sri Lanka.”

“Apart from this particular controversial video clip, some of Akon’s lyrics are not suitable for public articulation”

When the main allegation against someone was that he “defamed Buddhism in his music videos”. You really have to start wondering. I would expect something akin to a viseo of Akon flinging feces at a statue of the Buddha or violently stating that he plans on repeatedly stabbing Buddhist monks for this sort of [over]reation. And the statement that the lyrics are not for public consumption. Well…why is the government making that decision?

The incident illustrates the influence on the government of hardline Sinhalese nationalists, who have often used violence against those they consider to be offending Buddhism. In 2004, a hand grenade attack killed two people and wounded 19 at a concert by Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood star, in Sri Lanka. The attack was blamed on Sinhalese nationalists who were offended that the concert was being staged on the first anniversary of the death of a renowned Buddhist monk.

Or this example:

A Buddhist monk was arrested on Wednesday after he stormed Thailand’s parliament security office with an AK-47 machine gun and took approximately 20 people hostage.

Officials said the monk, Pramaha Sayanjerasutho, 37, was escorted to Dusit police station for questioning.

Pramaha had gone to the security office at around 8:30 am (0130 GMT) and taken out an AK-47 machine gun hidden in his robes.

He took approximately 20 parliamentary staff in the room hostage and invited around 10 members of the press inside to interview him.

Very often Buddhism gets equated with gentle, peaceful and non-violent but it does need to be expressed that this is simply untrue.  Buddhist practitioners are just as succeptable to mob mentality, racism, sexism and foolish behavior (and this is foolish behavior on the part of the Sri Lankan government).

From his essay “Buddhism and Violence” Bernard Faure states that

In whatever countries Buddhism has became official ideology—whether Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia or Tantric Buddhism in Tibet or East Asia—war has often been zealously waged. At present, the Buddhists of Sri Lanka, for example, have openly taken up the struggle against the Tamil freedom fighters. What is true of Japanese Zen holds equally for other forms of Buddhism. Long before its lyrical metaphysical flights exerted their charm, Buddhism took hold first and foremost as a tool for protecting States.





About John Pappas

John Pappas is a struggling Zen practitioner with a slight Vajrayana palate (but he won't admit it) stumbling between the relative and absolute through the Buddhist Purgatory otherwise known as the Great Plains of South Dakota. Emerging writer, librarian and aspiring hungry ghost, John spews his skewed perception of the dharma all over his personal blog, Subtle Dharma Mouth Punch as well as on the ephemeral Elephant Journal and occasionally (while having no artistic ability to speak of) on Dharma/Arte. John also loves tacos, homebrew, yoginis and obscure Cthulhu references. You can follow him on twitter under the handle @zendustzendirt


8 Responses to “Buddhist Violence, American Rappers and Sexy B*tches”

  1. This is an important topic. Many people still believe the Buddhist dogma, that Buddhists and Buddhism have never been associated with war and violence, unlike Judeo-Christian religions. But this simply isn't true.

    While Buddhism is a way to cultivate peace and nonviolence, human beings are human beings, capable of all kinds of terrible things. Buddhism should not be portrayed as a false escape from Christianity, or else we merely delude ourselves. If meditation is truly about seeing reality "as it is," we must open our eyes to the corruption and violence that has been perpetrated in the name of dharma.

  2. David Beers says:

    I agree. But the question still enters my mind… if a group wanted to discredit the peaceful nature of monks, what better way to do it than perform acts of outrageous violence while dressed in monks robes? Seeing reality "as it is" begins by questioning appearances and not being too quick to take them at face value.

    Still, the original point stands. A teacher of mine who had traveled and taken retreats in India and Sri Lanka once told me that she was surprised to find Buddhism being practices as "religion" in many places she visited. By that I think she meant that it was more about devotional beliefs than meditation practice in these places. I don't know to what extent this might apply to monastic communities, but anyone whose devotion is centered around beliefs of any kind is going to be prone to the same violence the rest of us feel when we cling strongly to things that invariably change. Obviously even a monk referring to his belief system as "Buddhist" doesn't make it buddhadarma.

  3. A good question. I can't recall the specifics but I do believe this sort of thing has actually happened before (discrediting Buddhism by dressing in monks robes).

    Buddhism is largely practiced as religion in the East. Most Westeners find this shocking only because our religious dogma says Buddhism is not a religion, but a secular spiritual technology. There is no escape from ideology, but we can learn to be less dogmatic about it, or adopt an ideology of non-violence.

  4. Good points. Another aspect is that of "state religion" when a religion (or philosophy) becomes "official" or state sanction then the stage is set for violence and discrimination. Buddhism is not immune to this.

    I don't see devotion centered around beliefs as being the problem (even the secular-minded are devoted to their beliefs). The issue for me is when one insists to push that devotion onto others.



  5. I agree that pushiness is a problem, for religious and secular alike. Lack of critical thinking and dialogue is also problematic. And yes, combination of church and state has many problems historically–especially persecution of minority religious groups.

  6. NellaLou says:

    When there is a state religion it is always indistinguishable from political position. I can't think of one exception to this. So in those Buddhist countries nationalism=religion and one is often used as an excuse for actions related to the other.

    Religion in that case is convenient because if one disagrees they are not only seen as treasonous but also blasphemous. (Either can get you executed in many places.) Both accusations together, even if unproven, insure persona non grata status to any detractors from the status quo. The population may be willing to fight against a political coup by the military, for example (as in Burma) but to fight against their own religious leaders at the same time would give the majority pause. It's a highly effective means of social control.

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  8. Tony says:

    Just because one Buddhist monk does this, it doesn't mean that all Buddhist monks do this. Any Buddhist monk that does something like this is probably a novice and doesn't understand the concepts or ideas of Buddhism. If this happens, that means the monk was too egotistical, something Buddhism is "against" being. Not every Buddhist knows how to perfect this knowledge. Once you get to the more serious monks who are close to being enlightened, or at least straight on the path unlike most novice monks. you get no violence (assuming the monk doesn't fall off the path as a result of his ego). Buddhism is only barely violent when you get to novice monks, and the more you get to laymen, people start getting more egotistical because they havent dedicated their life to Buddhism in the right way. Their ego shields them greatly.

    This is also true for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Brahmans, etc., but the reason why violence (or I should say, intolerance) is evident in any religion it's because of the followers who don't fully follow their religion. You see many Christians doing this especially, since we live in the United States, and they threaten you with hell and sin when they don't realize that it's all just metaphorical. Hell is a metaphor for suffering but Christians take it to a whole new level with fire and whatever, and if you do ONE thing wrong you go to hell. There are lots of Christians like that. But there are also Buddhists like that, except instead of threatening people with hell fire, they're just pretentious or "rebellious" against "society". Just like lots of atheist teens these days. Don't you see them protesting religion all the time? You don't see many mature adults protesting at all. So it's not religion, it's the people, this case that one Buddhist monk and the other corrupted monks, which are influenced by geographical location. Monks who live in Sri Lanka, an "underdeveloped country" get a lot of influence from the very controlling government, so they do stuff like this, but all the anger they get towards any country is caused by the ego, something a very dedicated monk would not do.